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Situation Called Dire in West Iraq
"In the analytical world, there is a real pall of gloom descending," said Jeffrey White, a former analyst of Middle Eastern militaries for the Defense Intelligence Agency, who also had been told about the pessimistic Marine report.
Devlin, who is in Iraq, could not be reached to comment. Col. Jerry Renne, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, said Saturday that "as a matter of policy, we don't comment on classified documents."
Anbar is a key province; it encompasses Ramadi and Fallujah, which with Baghdad pose the greatest challenge U.S. forces have faced in Iraq. It accounts for 30 percent of Iraq's land mass, encompassing the vast area from the capital to the borders of Syria and Jordan, including much of the area that has come to be known as the Sunni Triangle.
The insurgency arguably began there with fighting in Fallujah not long after U.S. troops arrived in April 2003, and fighting has since continued. Thirty-three U.S. military personnel died there in August -- 17 from the Marines, 13 from the Army and three from the Navy.
A second general who has read the report warned that he thought it was accurate as far as it went, but agreed with the defense official that Devlin's "dismal" view may not have much applicability elsewhere in Iraq. The problems facing Anbar are peculiar to that region, he and others argued.
But an Army officer in Iraq familiar with the report said he considers it accurate. "It is best characterized as 'realistic,' " he said.
"From what I understand, it is very candid, very unvarnished," said retired Marine Col. G. I. Wilson. "It says the emperor has no clothes."
One view of the report offered by some Marine officers is that it is a cry for help from an area where fighting remains intense, yet which recently has been neglected by top commanders and Bush administration officials as they focus on bringing a sense of security to Baghdad. An Army unit of Stryker light armored vehicles that had been slated to replace another unit in Anbar was sent to reinforce operations in Baghdad, leaving commanders in the west scrambling to move around other troops to fill the gap.
Devlin's report is a work of intelligence analysis, not of policy prescription, so it does not try to suggest what, if anything, can be done to fix the situation. It is not clear what the implications would be for U.S. forces if Devlin's view is embraced by top commanders elsewhere in Iraq. U.S. officials are wary of simply abandoning the Sunni parts of Iraq, for fear that they could become havens for al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
One possible solution would be to try to turn over the province to Iraqi forces, but that could increase the risk of a full-blown civil war. Shiite-dominated forces might begin slaughtering Sunnis, while Sunni-dominated units might simply begin acting independently of the central government.